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Jewish Thought: Scripture & Philosophy

Last Updated: Jan 8, 2024 4:13 PM

Scripture and Philosophy

The Hebrew Bible or Tanakh, also known in Hebrew as Miqra, is the canonical collection of Hebrew scriptures, including the Torah, the Nevi'im, and the Ketuvim. Different branches of Judaism and Samaritanism have maintained different versions of the canon, including the 3rd-century Septuagint text used by Second-Temple Judaism, the Syriac language Peshitta, the Samaritan Torah, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and most recently the 10th century medieval Masoretic text created by the Masoretes currently used in modern Rabbinic Judaism. Tanakh is an acronym, made from the first Hebrew letter of each of the Masoretic Text's three traditional divisions: Torah (literally 'Instruction' or 'Law'), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings)—hence TaNaKh. The three-part division reflected in the acronym Tanakh is well attested in the rabbinic literature. During that period, however, Tanakh was not used. Instead, the proper title was Miqra (meaning reading or that which is read) because the biblical texts were read publicly. The acronym 'Tanakh' was first recorded in the medieval era. Miqra continues to be used in Hebrew to this day, alongside Tanakh, to refer to the Hebrew scriptures. In modern spoken Hebrew, they are interchangeable.

The authoritative form of the modern Hebrew Bible used in Rabbinic Judaism is the Masoretic Text (7th to 10th century CE), which consists of 24 books, divided into pesuqim (verses). The contents of the Medieval Masoretic text are similar, but not identical, to those of the Protestant Old Testament, in which the material is divided into 39 books and arranged in a different order. This is due to the Tiberian-Masoretic text having been considered the "original'' Hebrew text across Europe since the Renaissance. Scholars within the Catholic church started to treat these books differently due to this misunderstanding of the Masoretic text, and Martin Luther took this understanding even further due to the Ad Fontes influence of Humanism. Luther did not know the Masoretic was a modern interpretation when using it to justify removing 7 books from the Christian Old Testament. The ancient Christian Bibles currently used by the Catholic and Orthodox churches are based on the Septuagint, which was considered the authoritative scriptural canon by Second-Temple Judaism practiced by the 1st century Christians. In addition to the Masoretic Text, modern scholars seeking to understand the history of the Hebrew Bible use a range of sources. These include the Septuagint, the Syriac language Peshitta translation, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea Scrolls collection and quotations from rabbinic manuscripts. These sources may be older than the Masoretic Text in some cases and sometimes differ from it. These differences have given rise to the theory that yet another text, an Urtext of the Hebrew Bible, once existed and is the source of the versions extant today. However, such an Urtext has never been found, and which of the three commonly known versions (Septuagint, Masoretic Text, Samaritan Pentateuch) is closest to the Urtext is debated.

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Image of Torah scroll cases

Above: Torah scroll cases. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons. Image Creator: Israel Preker. License: Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic.

Reading Primary Texts

Interpreting Scripture

Scripture and Law

Image of a Torah scroll

Above: Torah scroll. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons. Image Creator: Spurgeon56License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International.

Historical Analysis

Jewish history is the history of the Jews, and their nation, religion, and culture, as it developed and interacted with other peoples, religions, and cultures. Although Judaism as a religion first appears in Greek records during the Hellenistic period (323–31 BCE) and the earliest mention of Israel is inscribed on the Merneptah Stele around 1213–1203 BCE, religious literature tells the story of Israelites going back at least as far as c. 1500 BCE. The first dispersal began with the Israelite diaspora during the Assyrian captivity and continued on a much larger scale with the Babylonian captivity. Jews were also widespread throughout the Roman Empire, and this carried on to a lesser extent in the period of Byzantine rule in the central and eastern Mediterranean. In 638 CE, the Byzantine Empire lost control of the Levant. The Arab Islamic Empire under Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem and the lands of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Egypt. The Golden Age of Jewish culture in Spain coincided with the Middle Ages in Europe, a period of Muslim rule throughout much of the Iberian Peninsula. During that time, Jews were generally accepted in society and Jewish religious, cultural, and economic life blossomed. Between the 12th and 15th centuries, Ashkenazi Jews experienced extreme persecution in Central Europe, which prompted their massive immigration to Poland. During the Classical Ottoman period (1300–1600), Jews, together with most other communities of the empire, enjoyed a certain level of prosperity. In the 17th century, there were many significant Jewish populations in Western Europe. During the period of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment, significant changes occurred within the Jewish community. Jews began in the 18th century to campaign for Jewish emancipation from restrictive laws and integration into the wider European society. While Jews in Western Europe were increasingly granted equality before the law, they faced growing persecution and legal restrictions in the Russian Pale of Settlement, including widespread pogroms, which caused a mass exodus of more than two million Jews to the United States between 1881 and 1924.

Text source: Wikipedia (edited). This version of Wikipedia content is published here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Image of the Dome of the Rock and Wailing wall

Above: Dome of the Rock and Wailing wall. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons. Image Creator: Peter MulliganLicense:  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

The Cambridge history of Judaism and Jewish Philosophy

Survey of Jewish Thought

Animality in Jewish Thought

Online Resources